Written by Charles Hall
I have been assigned the task of writing about Little League Baseball, and why it was so important to those of us who played, and why it still matters today – well over 60 years later. The only way I know to explain it is to tell the story of my journey – from the perspective of a 10 year old – through trying out, learning, practicing, making life-long friends … and a couple of high spots and low spots. It’s a long story, so I will break it down into a few segments, by age.
I was in the fifth grade, age 10, at Lamar Elementary in Midland. I had spent the previous year at West Elementary, made a lot of new friends, but they were mostly behind me for now. I had reacquainted with old friends at Lamar, and had made some new ones. One of these new friends, John Moore, encouraged me to sign up for Little League baseball, so I did. There was a “draft”, and I ended up as property of the Macs (McFarland Drilling), and it turned out that John’s family was associated with the team, but I didn’t know any of his family yet. The evening before the tryouts, my Dad drove me to the field, just to get me comfortable with my surroundings (corner of Delano and Holly Drive, a huge park about 3 blocks long now known as Garrett Brown Park). I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of this park, but I did notice a couple of big backstops about 2 blocks on down the park. I was focused on the first field, the one with a big fence all the way around it and with “grandstands” (actually bleachers with about 6 or 8 rows). You see, my idol was Ted Williams – the last man to bat over .400 in the big leagues in 1941 and one of the greatest hitters of all time. He played on a field with fences and grandstands, so I assumed I would too. As will become evident, I had a LOT to learn about baseball and about life in the 1950’s. There were NO “participation trophys” back then !!!
I was 10 years old. This is an age where guys start to think they are pretty good athletes, if they care about such things. I did care. (My sister was a really good high school tennis player, and my Mother was a well- known local golfer – 5 holes in one, won the State long driving contest at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth – think Ben Hogan. I have the long drive trophy on my mantle – and she was less than 5 ft tall). I was a pretty fast runner compared to my friends. I was pretty good at playing catch. I had already won my age group golf tournament at Ranchland Hills Country Club, shot 49 for 9 holes, and I had won the age 10 and under Midland ping pong tournament at least 2 times by then. I later won my age group in several other area tournaments and even a State ping pong tournament. So, I thought I was just going to waltz in there and start hitting home runs like Ted Williams. I was soon to learn that hand-eye coordination in ping pong and golf don’t necessarily translate over to making you a good baseball player. You need that and much more. And I was little!
I showed up all eager to start playing…. and was immediately shuffled off to the other end of the park. No grandstands, no fences, a jillion guys, and they didn’t look very good. The “B” team. I was devastated!! But, fortunately I must have done something right during that 1st workout, because this tall lanky guy (I would later know him well as Charles Moore, John’s older brother) came up to me and told me to report to the guy on the mound way at the other end of the park, his Father. INSIDE the fenced field. I was elated!! …… For a short time. Once I reported to the “A” Team tryouts, it didn’t take long to realize — these guys were GOOD!! I suddenly felt small, uncoordinated, not in control of my destiny. But I kept trying, and soon made some new friends, ie John McElligott, Bruce McElligott, Scott Rogers, Sammy Brown, Mike Anderson, Bobby Smith, Troy Roberts, Jerry Marshall etc, and I already knew John Moore and Cliff Johnson. My goal now was to make the team and get to play with these guys. The “A” Team had uniforms!!! Did I have a chance ?? Not much, it turned out. I was going to need a break or two, … or three.
For some background, there were a couple of rules to help young 9 & 10 year olds make the team and compete. Little League was from age 9 through age 12. August 1, was the cut off date. Since I was born on August 22nd, I was about as old as you could be as a player. Instead of being the youngest like I was at school, I was actually the oldest for my age classification for the only time in my life. (John McElligott was in the same category as me, being born in September). Each of the 4 teams in the Western League had to carry on the roster at least two 9 OR 10 year olds (but 9 year olds hardly ever made the team), AND a 9/10 year old had to pitch a certain number of innings. Evidently the Macs had not had a reliable 9/10 year old pitcher the previous year, a team problem. (This became my first and most fortunate break, because it meant that 10 year olds John McElligott and Scott Rogers were NOT good pitchers, but they were very good at everything else …. More on this later).
I managed to hang on through several workouts, with no real position but I did do a fair amount of pitching, and decision day came for the coaches. John Moore and his older brother Eric invited me over to their house on Ohio Street to play catch. Eric had been the shortstop/pitcher the previous year, was an incredible athlete, and was now in Pony League. He told me that if I made the “A” Team that I better get used to fast pitching. So we set up a plate in their back yard – Eric pitching, John catching, and me standing there like a batter but with no bat. (It wouldn’t have mattered if I had a tennis racquet in my hands, Eric threw it so fast I could barely even see the ball. It did help me get over the fear of a fast pitch, though). While we were doing this, Coach Etherly called and told John to bring me along to his house – to get our uniforms. I had made the team !!!! While I was trying on my uniform, Coach told me that I would be pitching the required 10 year old innings…a big surprise to me.
We had 2 other 10 year olds on the team, pretty unusual. (At that age a year older makes a huge difference in coordination, power, and experience.) But what was really unusual was that these other 2 guys had made the team last year as 9 year olds. Almost unheard of! John McElligott, catcher, and Scott Rogers, third base were rising superstars to be. Both were already very good in fielding their positions AND were big time power hitters. There was no way I could have beat out either of them – EXCEPT at pitching. They were both horrible pitchers, so our team was keeping the 3 of us for this year. I really only discovered, a few weeks ago in early August, 2019, the thinking behind the decision to keep me. John McElligott had become a Doctor in his late 30’s, and in what I’m sure he considered his very best bedside manner, brusquely (google the word LOL) informed me … and I quote… “The only reason you made the team that 1st year was because you could pitch a little bit, and Scott and I weren’t great pitchers.” Well, he was right about the last part at least J. (Note: we have been great friends for well over 60 years, so we can get away with trash talking each other a little bit).
The season went by quickly – 12 games I think. I didn’t get to play much, sat on the bench a lot watching and hopefully learning. There were NO Participation Trophies back then. You wanted to play, you had to earn it. I did get to take advantage of the required 10 year old pitching rule, and somehow managed to not get bombed too badly. It was hard going, I couldn’t throw it very fast, only had one real pitch, and was working on a curveball that wasn’t that good. I did have pretty good control. I was definitely not a good hitter, and my best chance to get on base was to draw a walk or to be hit by a pitched ball.
When I got to play one of the other positions, it was the outfield. I wasn’t very good out there (never have been), the field seemed huge to me, and the simplest throw to the infield seemed like a mile. I had originally hoped to play third base because my older friend Jody Black had played 3rd base for the Midland High School Bulldogs. However, nobody was going to take third base away from Scott Rogers! Then I got my second big break. Sammy Brown (Flournoy later) played shortstop for us as a 12 year old. He was an all around great athlete, which included pitching. So when he pitched, someone had to play shortstop, and towards the end of the season that someone became me. Sammy was a big star in our league, and he took me under his wing – I’m sure no big deal to him, but it meant the world to me both in confidence and with what he taught me regarding positioning and fielding. (I just looked him up in the 1962 Lee High School annual, and Sammy was Mr. Personality and Mr. Senior. No surprise, he was not only very popular, but a star on the football and baseball teams). He taught me that the shortstop must do something on every play. Don’t just stand there, at least drift towards the ball and you can’t go wrong. Ie, if a ball is hit to right field, the second baseman should be heading out to right to cut off the throw to the infield, and I, as shortstop, should be covering 2nd base. Pretty basic, but I really had no idea until he would take me aside at practice and show me these things. Sammy Flournoy, a really great guy !!
Eric Moore, John’s brother, went on to star in football and baseball at Midland High School. He graduated in 1961, and then played running back at Texas Tech University – not bad for someone who probably never weighed over 170 lbs. He was “our hero” to John and me when we were growing up. (John and I would often try to “ambush” Eric after he had parked his motor scooter in the back, but I don’t recall ever pinning him down. I do recall a lot of scrapes and bruises from being slung around like a rag doll J). Eric was kind enough to give me lots of shortstop fielding lessons, mainly to get the glove down low to the ground when about to field a ground ball. It is so much easier and quicker to bring your glove up to get the ball than it is to force your glove lower at the last second in case of a funny hop. And come up ready to throw !! Eric also told me that I could make my throwing arm stronger and more accurate by using it OFTEN (my first introduction to “working out”). This new knowledge was to play a crucial role in me making the team next year. Thank you Eric !!
So, as a 10 year old I got to play a little bit, and I had learned a few things. BUT, I knew I wasn’t really very good and it was going to be hard to make the team as an 11 year old. I would no longer have the advantage of 10 year old pitching status. The competition was going to be fierce. I needed to grow bigger and get stronger. My fastball was too slow, and I really had no other effective pitch. I had worked a little bit on a curveball, but everyone said no Little League pitcher could throw a good curveball. I wasn’t a very good hitter, almost no power. I was probably an adequate infielder at best. John McElligott, John Moore, Scott Rogers and some of my other good friends were definitely going to make the team. I thought we had the makings of a really good team, and I desperately wanted to be a part of it. I really wanted to keep playing with these guys.
The next season was about 10 months away. I knew I had to get better during the offseason. Fortunately, I had a plan…… (More on that in the next Chapter)
Now that is what I am talking about.
Karen Kimball Jones
Great insight as to what a little guy endures to play sports! You had it all! Super story Charles! Girls just played kickball in petticoats back then…at least that’s all I knew!
You had such an impact at West Elementary that I thought you were just in another class all those years and then I find out you were at Lamar! Surely We “West people” knew you longer than a year! Kk
Really enjoyed your story, Charles! Having children and grandchildren who played then and are playing now, I could totally relate to your experience. Good job! LMW
Suzi Northcutt Griffith
Great writing, Charles. Waiting for the next chapter!